From Hello Oma to Ukraine for Kalas

There’s a handful of reasons why stores close in the Hamptons. Maybe they’re seasonal, or there’s the pandemic, or maybe it just wasn’t the right time for the right idea. 

But Kristofer Kalas closed up his gourmet food store, Hello Oma at 27 Race Lane, East Hampton, to go and rescue his wife.

Galla Kalas, Kristofer’s spouse, is Ukrainian, and was in her home country in February, with their daughter, as the forces from Russia began to attack. Kristofer — a pastry chef, chocolatier, and shop owner without a background in the armed forces or humanitarian efforts — went to move his wife and daughter to a safer place, and ended up staying on to help the evacuation efforts, including transporting food and supplies. 

Now Kalas’s cozy coffee and bake shop, which opened in July of 2019, has reopened with specialty coffee, fresh pressed juices, baked goods, and outdoor seating in the back of the space with a quaint garden.

He took some time to talk with us about his experience.

What motivated you to go to Ukraine on a humanitarian mission?

It was twofold; one, to ensure my infant daughter would have a future Ukraine to visit and live in if she so chose. If you’ve ever spent time in Ukraine you will know the people there are generally really good people and it was important for me to help in any way I could. 

And secondly, I was raised Jewish, and so the Holocaust always weighed heavily on my mind. When we learned about it at an early age, you can’t help but wonder what you would do in that type of situation. And when this war started it felt incredibly similar, and so there was no hesitation to act.

Did your skills as a chef and business owner help you?

As any small business owner will tell you, you have to learn a million things to keep your business running, from trade work to logistics and supply, you learn to be a problem solver. And so that came in very handy, the ability to diagnose a problem and find one (or many) solutions.

How do you see things differently now that you’re back in East Hampton?

It certainly works to reframe your perspective on life and what is important, what you value and how you wish to spend your time.

Are there changes coming to Hello Oma as a direct result of your trip?

Yes! We are looking to start stocking more Ukrainian producers of food and home goods to further support the people of Ukraine.

What is the message you want to convey to others about Ukraine and the war there?

This is a war we are all involved in, because if it didn’t stop in Ukraine, it most certainly would have spread to the rest of Europe. Ukraine is fighting for everyone, for democracy, for all of the same ideals of being a sovereign nation that we value here in America.

Bridget LeRoy

Bridget LeRoy co-founded The East Hampton Independent and the Children’s Museum of the East End, and has been honored with over fifty awards for editing and journalism from various press associations. Follow LeRoy on instagram @bridget_leroy.

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